The prospect of the Irish football team lining out in Brazil for the 2014 World Cup hangs in the balance. A fine battling performance in Sweden to gain an unexpected 0-0 draw and a vital qualifying point was followed up by a 2-2 draw with Austria in the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.
It could have been so different. The young Irish team were a goal down within 11 minutes after a defensive mistake let in the Austrians who had dominated the early part of the game. Martin Harnik poked home the opening goal past the despairing dive of Irish keeper David Forde. The Irish team dug in and with the excellent Shane Long leading the attack got a lifeline with a penalty after an Austrian defender rashly chopped down Shane Long on the edge of the penalty box. A definite penalty that was expertly converted by Jonathan Walters. Long was unlucky not to score shortly after when his beautiful back-heel came back of the post. The Irish were in the ascendancy with the stadium erupting when Walters scored his second goal of the night, a header from a corner kick and right on the stroke of half-time.
The Austrians regrouped and started to dominate the game again in the second half. Ireland still threatened and might have had a third goal when the Austrian goalkeeper Heinza Lindner expertly prevented an own-goal from an Irish corner. Increasingly the Austrians gained the upper hand and it was with a sense of inevitability that they snatched a deserved equalizer deep into added time. Just seconds remained on the clock but the three points had been converted into just one with new questions abounding about the tactics employed by the Irish manager Giovanni Trapattoni.
No-one doubts the ‘gameness’ of these Irish lads and they are not without genuine footballing quality but against Austria they were let down by their Manager’s unwillingness to believe that they could do more than just cling on and defend their goal advantage. With the Austrians dominating it became clear that the Irish team needed midfield reinforcements while the substitution of Shane Long was baffling to say the least.
It is not over yet and if the Irish can produce an away performance against Austria and turn over the Swedes in Dublin then they may yet claim second place in the group and a play-off place.
At the moment this looks like a very tall order.
Group C – Current Standing
Germany - Played: 6 – Points: 16
Austria - Played: 5 – Points: 8
Sweden - Played: 4 – Points: 8
Ireland - Played: 5 – Points: 8